Though Steve Martin said that “atheists don’t have no songs,” there are plenty of great songs with nontheistic themes. Below is the third installment of my list of the 20 best atheist or nonreligious anthems.
In order for a song to qualify for this list, it had to be either explicitly atheistic, express a skeptical or Humanistic viewpoint, or come from an artist who has identified in some way as nonreligious.
10. The Mountain Goats, “1 Samuel 15:23”
“My house will be for all people who have nowhere to go”
This one may be a surprise for some; after all, every track on their incredible 2009 album The Life of the World to Come was named after a Bible verse or book. But when announcing the album, lead singer and songwriter John Darnielle wrote, “I guess the obvious question is going to be: ‘John, have you had some sort of religious awakening?’ and while I guess lots of people might want to be coy about answering that, that’s never really been my style, so: no. It’s not like that.” (Darnielle is in fact an atheist, though he told The Days of Lore, “I’m an atheist who can’t really stand the company of other atheists. [laughs] You know what I mean? There’s nothing more tiresome than a person who never grew out of saying how awesome it is to have discovered that there’s no god.”) Darielle has described this song, taken from that album, as being about trying to navigate a Christian-majority society as a non-Christian.
9. The Ballet, “Meaningless”
“I’ve got no higher love / I’ve got no one to impress / No God or heaven above / I guess my life is meaningless.”
This song, taken from The Ballet’s buoyant 2013 album I Blame Society, seems inspired by queer liberation. An anthem about societally imposed expectations, the sarcastic hook of the song suggests that without things like a wedding ring or belief in a God, one’s life is meaningless. While all of The Ballet’s songs are wonderful, this is one of their meatiest—and one of their best.
8. Quiet Company, “The Black Sheep & The Shepherd”
“So I tried and I tried to achieve belief… But luckily I held out long enough to see that everybody really makes their own destiny / It’s a beautiful thing / It’s just you and me, exactly where we belong / and there’s nothing inherently wrong with us.”
This song is taken from the first-class We Are All Where We Belong, which lead singer Taylor Muse called “a break up record, only the romance that’s ending was between myself and religion.” (They were once on a Christian record label and played at a Christian music festival.) The break up resonates throughout the album from the very beginning; the opening track announces, “I wanted to believe as they do, but… I don’t want to waste my time, thinking about the afterlife.”
7. Owen Pallett, “I Am Not Afraid”
“I am not afraid, ze said, of the nonbeliever within me… My salvation is found in discipline.”
Owen Pallett (formerly known as Final Fantasy), who was nominated for Best Original Score for Her at the last year’s Academy Awards, is openly gay and has identified as an atheist—even describing his Polaris Music Prize-winning 2006 album He Poos Clouds as both “a statement about the state of religion on society and my own personal viewpoint on atheism.” This song opens his latest release, the brilliant In Conflict.
6. Angel Haze, “Battle Cry” (featuring Sia)
“I woke up one Sunday morning, stopped believing in Jesus / Stopped believing in churches, I stopped believing in preachers… You the only person alive that holds the key to your healing.”
Raised in a fundamentalist Christian community that she has since referred to as a cult, Haze doesn’t identify as an atheist (when asked on Twitter, she explicitly said that she isn’t)—but she is clearly skeptical of religion. Taken from her amazing debut album, 2013’s Dirty Gold, “Battle Cry” finds Haze reflecting on challenges she’s faced, including her experiences with religion. Elsewhere on Dirty Gold, Haze questions who wrote the Bible, asks for proof in response to claims about why Jesus died on the cross, and says, “I talk to God but I don’t really know if He can hear me.” Album standout “Black Synagogue” concludes with a powerful conversation: “’How many people here look for Jesus to solve their problems?’ ‘Lots of people.’ ‘And how many of those people are fixed?’ ‘None’… ‘It takes something to just say, ‘F-ck it! This is reality, I’m gonna deal with it!’”